We all know that a poor night’s sleep leaves you feeling terrible the next day; beyond that, research shows that sleep is vital for physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. But in today’s busy world it can be difficult to get enough quality sleep, so much so that the CDC calls insufficient sleep a “public health concern.” Fortunately, these simple lifestyle changes can help you sleep better to face the world at your best.
Turn Off the Screen
You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t stare at your phone (or laptop, or TV) right before bed. The blue light emitted by screens disrupts your body clock and suppresses melatonin production, making you feel less sleepy and increasing the time it takes you to fall asleep. Experts at the National Sleep Foundation recommend powering down for the night at least 30 minutes before you hit the hay.
Stick to a Schedule (and Don't Sleep in on Weekends)
While it can be tempting to catch up on the sleep that you missed during the week by sleeping in on the weekends, doing so throws off your body clock and essentially leaves you in a state of perpetual jet lag. Having a regular sleep/wake schedule will help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up more easily.
Don't Hit Snooze
As tempting as it may be to catch just a few more Z’s, any sleep you get after hitting snooze won’t be quality shuteye. Each time you hit snooze and fall back asleep you’re restarting your sleep cycle so that the next time your alarm comes around you’ll be even more tired. You’re better off setting your alarm for when you actually need to get out of bed and just getting up when it goes off.
Exercise during the day can lead to better sleep at night by helping you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. However, for some people vigorous exercise within three hours of bedtime can have the opposite effect by making them feel more awake and alert. If that’s you, it’s best to exercise earlier in the day.
If you’re in the habit of taking naps, take your nap before 5 p.m. and avoid sleeping more than 45 minutes throughout the course of the day. Napping longer or later in the day decreases your urge to sleep at bedtime, which can lead to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night.
Cut the Caffiene
You probably know that caffeine can help you wake up in the morning and keep you awake at night. You might not know, however, that effects of caffeine can last between 6 to 8 hours after you drink that cup of joe—so avoid caffeine in the mid-afternoon and evening. Also watch out for caffeine in foods like dark chocolate, which can have twice the amount of caffeine as coffee by weight.
Skip the Nightcap
Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it decreases the quality of your sleep by reducing the amount of deep sleep and REM sleep. You tend to wake up in the middle of the night after the effects of the alcohol have worn off, leading to fragmented, restless sleep. It’s best to avoid alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
Create a Cozy Bedroom
Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillows is key to getting a good night’s sleep. Mattresses are typically meant to only last between 8 to 10 years and an old mattress may dip in the middle, causing you to toss and turn during the night or wake up with aches and pains.
Keep Your Cool
You sleep best in a cool room. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you keep your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees. When you’re falling asleep your body temperature decreases, and a cooler bedroom can help you fall asleep better.
Time to Unwind
Give yourself time to relax before you go to bed. Take a warm bath, listen to some relaxing music, read a book, do some gentle yoga or another calming activity. Just remember to avoid work, stress, and bright light because they make it harder for you to fall asleep.
If trying to implement all of these tips seems impossible, don’t worry. The Harvard Department of Sleep Medicine says that you don’t necessarily have to follow every recommendation; instead, they recommend that you focus on what’s disrupting your sleep and then working to fix those patterns and behaviors.